Let It Be with Me

A Homily for the Annunciation of the Lord

Text: St. Luke 1:26-38


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Only-Begotten Son. Amen.

There’s a day that will be here before we know it: November 1st. The Halloween candy will be moved to a discount bin and in its place, stores will be putting out Christmas decorations. Clergy Twitter will invariably foam at the mouth as we (rightly) point out that it’s All Saints’ Day and that we haven’t even gotten to Advent yet.

But tonight, thanks to some overlapping cycles of the liturgical calendar, in the tail-end of Lent, we’re already looking forward towards the Feast of the Nativity and the birth of our Lord. (Before COVID foiled this and many other plans, we were going to be singing that wonderful Basque carol tonight, “The angel Gabriel from heaven came.”)

The Nativity of our Lord and the holy feasts related to it are a reminder of the miracle of the Incarnation: Jesus Christ, true God from true God, the Only-Begotten Son, through whom all things were made, became truly human – so fully human that he knew the pain of hunger, the temptation of sin, and even the sting of death.

But nine months before his birth in royal David’s city, on this day near the end of March, we take a day to celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

It is Mary who, through her body, fed and nourished the one who gave us his own Body and Blood as a holy meal to sustain and nourish us. It is Mary who, in the waters of birth, delivered the one who gives us new birth through water and the Spirit.

Like the prophet Samuel’s mother, Hannah, in ages past, God promises Mary a child – but unlike Hannah, Mary has not been trying to conceive. For the Blessed Virgin, pregnancy carries with it not only the risk of medical complications in a world with low standards of health care and high mortality rates for both mother and child but also the risk of societal shaming for being with child (and the underlying assumption of how that child came to be) before marriage. The Gospel according to Saint Matthew reveals Joseph’s concern: that while he wanted to spare Mary the scandal of conceiving out of wedlock, he also intended to divorce her – until an angel convinced him otherwise.

Despite these risks – despite the fact that the Mother of our Lord was likely barely a teenager and even more likely terrified of what Gabriel had to say, that her Son would lay claim to the throne of David, bringing him and all of Judea into conflict with Rome and its legions – Mary answered the Lord’s call with these simple words: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

And here is really the center of this entire feast: in the ancient Greek and Roman myths, gods had children with human women through acts of abduction and  sexual violence. But the God of Israel, the One who has elected Israel from among the nations, the One who looks with favor upon the lowly and casts down the mighty, acts only with the Blessed Virgin’s knowing consent.

God’s covenant to bless the whole world through Abraham and Sarah’s descendants rests on the shoulders of a young woman who is willing to bear the Only-Begotten into the world.

Listen, dear ones, and hear what God is asking of you, the role our Lord has called you to play in this covenant. And despite all fears, tribulations, and threats, know this: You, too, are highly-favored, and the Lord is with you.

Amen.

The Ordinary Incarnation

A Homily for the Nativity of our Lord

Text: St. Luke 2:1-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, born this night, the Prince of Peace, laying in a manger. Amen.

On the 6th of May 2019, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, seventh in line to the throne of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, was born to Prince Harry and Megan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, in the exclusive Portland Hospital – birthplace of royalty and celebrity. His birth was heralded by a media spectacle as well as illuminations of the London Eye Ferris wheel, Toronto’s CN Tower, and Niagra Falls, and for £125 (just over $160), shoppers could buy the officially-sanctioned souvenir teddy bear. He was baptized in the chapel of Windsor Castle by the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. This pomp and circumstance in spite of the fact that his parents have opted to raise him a “private” citizen, foregoing the right to pass on one of his father’s hereditary titles.

What else would we expect for the son of a prince? This is precisely the sort of extraordinary attention we reserve for those lofty few, those who will reside in palaces or mansions.

The story of Jesus’ birth is likewise extraordinary, but in a completely different way. Our Lord was born not in some elite hospital nor a palace but in the ancient equivalent of a garage because the house was full.

His parents were not special, neither royalty nor celebrities, not even religious leaders. His father was a craftsman engaged to a young woman. They were from a small town that was often the butt of the joke – one of Christ’s own disciples would snidely ask, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” These blessed parents were far from home because the emperor in Rome decided to flex his political muscle over the farthest reaches of his realm.

The angels herald Jesus’ birth only to a few shepherds out in the fields, and a few foreign astronomers notice a strange star, but that’s about it. Save for his parents, the shepherds, and those magi (who don’t even show up for a few years – but more about that in two weeks), everything about this night seems so extremely ordinary.

This is the story of the Incarnation, the story of God the Son, the Divine Word, the Eternally-Begotten One through whom all things were made, becoming a human, one of us. It’s a night that changed the world, and yet it was so entirely plain.

There’s something unsettling about a God who comes to us in such humble form – born not to a king or emperor but to a craftsman and his fiancée in a far-flung province of an oppressive empire, a God who, like all newborns, cried and soiled himself and woke his holy parents up in the middle of the night. The one who gave us his Body and Precious Blood was fed of his own mother’s body, was entirely dependent on the Blessed Virgin Mary for his being.

We dress this night up with illuminations, festive greenery, and sacred song, but at its core, its is holy because it is common.

The Jesuit priest and gang intervention advocate Father Greg Boyle once remarked,

I think we’re afraid of the incarnation. And part of it, the fear that drives us is that we have to have our sacred in a certain way. It has to be gold-plated, and cost… millions [with a] cast of thousands….

But this is what tonight is all about: God enters the world, shunning the pomp and circumstance of human royalty, foregoing the gold-plating in favor of fragile human flesh. Living among us, he encounters pain and disease, he weeps at the graveside of a dear friend, knows the true anguish of hunger and thirst, and feels the sting of death. Our Savior is one who has gone through the same trials and tribulations as us.

On this night of nights, we remember and give thanks that our Lord blessed us with his presence not by appearing as some sort of angelic being devoid of flesh and bone nor by dwelling in some palace far removed from the pain of common, everyday life but that he lived among us, greeted by working-class shepherds.

He lived under earthly kings. He talked to, healed, touched, and even ate with the religious elite, the enslaved, the sex worker, the tax collector, the occupying soldier, the divorcee, the pure and unclean alike, washing away human distinctions between Jew and Gentile, male and female,  slave and free, calling all of people to new and everlasting life.

And it is this ordinary-looking child who shall be called Wonderful Counselor, who shall wield all authority on heaven and earth, who will reign with righteousness and justice.

It is this newborn Child who will break the oppressive yoke of sin and death, who will feed the hungry and send the rich away empty, who will lift up the lowly and topple tyrants from their thrones. It is this crying infant who will taste death but, in dying, destroy the deathly powers of this world.

By taking on humanity, ordinary, fleshy, common humanity, Christ will pull us ordinary, fleshy humans out of the grave and dress us in ever-living divinity.

And on this holy night, my dear friends, as we remember the God who came as an infant, we celebrate also that he left us this Blessed Sacrament, his Body and Blood, as a gift of grace. But even this we have tried to dress up with silver and gold. Again, Father Greg reminds us:

And so we’ve wrestled the cup out of Jesus’s hand, and we’ve replaced it with a chalice, because who doesn’t know that a chalice is more sacred than a cup….Jesus doesn’t lose any sleep that we will forget that the Eucharist is sacred. He is anxious that we might forget that it’s ordinary, that it’s a meal shared among friends, and that’s the incarnation.

Our Lord’s presence continues in our midst through the mystery of his Body and Blood made present in ordinary bread and wine. Here, beloved, the miracle of our Lord’s birth continues: a God who came to us as a normal kid comes to us again as an ordinary meal. Here he is, for us, to forgive and bring us into newness of life, to make us the holy Body of Christ.

Amen.

#Blessed Are the Poor

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; St. Luke 6:17-26


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the fount of all blessing. Amen.

Blessed are the poor, Jesus says.

This passage is strangely familiar to us, like a verse from a half-forgotten song.

Today’s Gospel lesson has a parallel text. In Saint Matthew, we read the Beatitudes – a famously popular passage, one memorized by children in Sunday School and read at confirmations, ordinations, and funerals.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” reports that other evangelist. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

But not so for Saint Luke. In today’s Gospel reading, Christ’s teachings aren’t just about spirituality. No, they have real-world, lived consequences. This isn’t just about hearts and souls but bodies.

Christ’s ministry, Saint Luke tells us, is incarnational – it’s about human poverty, human stomachs, human lives, human flesh. Jesus became one of us not just to cure sin-sick souls but also to rescue human bodies from death.

Blessed are the poor, says our Lord. Blessed are the hungry. Blessed are the oppressed.

But do we believe him? Continue reading “#Blessed Are the Poor”

The Lord Revealed

A Homily for the Epiphany of Our Lord

Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6; St. Matthew 2:1-12


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who comes into the midst of us as a radiant and lowborn King. Amen.

As formal as royal events are today, they have nothing on the status of kings in ages past. The further back in history you go, the more power kings and emperors claimed for themselves. We may know a little about folks like Richard the Lionheart or Charlemagne (whose Latin name, Karlus Magnus, means Charles the Great. But of course his full title for use in documents was “Charles, most serene Augustus crowned by God, the great, peaceful emperor ruling the Roman Empire.”)

And these medieval kings have nothing on their ancient counterparts.

Consider the heirs of Alexander the Great. When his empire wad divided among five ruling families, they set themselves up as kings and were constantly at war with each other. One such ruler, Antiochus IV, ruled over territory stretching from Judaea to Persia. He claimed the titles Nicator (“the Bringer of Victory”) and Epiphanes (“the Manifestation of God”). He also brought his kingdom to the brink of war, persecuted the people of Judaea, and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem to the pagan god Zeus, ultimately setting up the successful Jewish rebellion now observed as Hanukkah – so perhaps he was not so manifestly awesome as he claimed.

Antiochus’ nephew Demetrius I was given the title Soter – Savior. Continue reading “The Lord Revealed”

The Little Boy Lost

A Homily for the First Sunday in Christmas

Text: St. Luke 2:41-52


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ who comes to us as both a child and a savior. Amen.

What was our Savior like as a child? Beyond the carol’s claims of “no crying he makes”?

We see shockingly little of Christ’s early life. Mark and John completely omit our Lord’s childhood. Matthew gives a quick over-view in only a chapter and a half. Luke packs it all – from birth to age thirty – into one chapter, fifty-two verses – much of which focuses on the first few days of his life and the people around him rather than on Jesus himself. All of the material we have is laden with symbolism: the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt as refugees only to return safely in a re-creation of the Exodus. Jesus presented in the Temple, greeted with prophetic excitement as Anna and Simeon proclaim that this child is the one they’ve been waiting for. Today, St. Luke builds on his already-rich imagery, telling us that the Holy Family was pious, and that Mary and Joseph observed Passover with the traditional pilgrimage up to Jerusalem. In a foreshadowing of the Passion and Resurrection, Jesus disappears for three days before being returned safely.

But today, beneath the symbolism, we also see an important – no, a vital part of Jesus’ life. We see something incredibly normal. Yes, this reading is set 2,000 years ago, and yes, it is full of vibrant imagery, but it also contains a very human moment. It’s a scene that has undoubtedly played out in nearly every family over the centuries. Continue reading “The Little Boy Lost”

Unto Us a Child Is Born

A Homily for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord

Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7; St. Luke 2:1-20


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, born to us this night in the city of David. Amen.

Tonight marks the turning of the age. Tonight, of all nights, God steps into human history as one of us, and everything changes. The Son of God, the Incarnate Word, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ will live among us. He’ll walk the dusty highways. He’ll be baptized and tempted in the wilderness. He’ll call disciples and teach. He’ll perform wondrous acts, turn water into wine, feed the multitudes, calm the storms, and walk on water. He’ll cast out demons, open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, heal the lepers, and even raise the dead. He’ll enter Jerusalem in triumph and institute the Sacrament of his presence at the Altar for us. He’ll be handed over, tried, bound, and crucified. He’ll descend into hell and rise again victorious. And in his glorious Resurrection, he’ll open to us the way of everlasting life. Alleluia! Amen!

But all of this will come later. Tonight’s miracle is enough: the Divine Word which is with God and is God from the beginning, the Son of God eternally begotten of the Father, through whom all things were made — is born in Bethlehem. Tonight, God becomes one of us. Continue reading “Unto Us a Child Is Born”